Shopping for healthy food can be difficult. You try to stay on top of current health trends, read about foods that are good for you, see the advertisements on TV and read labels to make the best choices.
Shopping for healthy food can be difficult. You try to stay on top of current health trends, read about foods that are good for you, see the advertisements on TV and read labels to make the best choices. Sometimes, even armed with the best intentions, we make mistakes. Following are some common nutrition mistakes and some tips to help you make the best choices.
Mistake: You choose the more expensive brown eggs, instead of white, because they are better for you.
Truth: The color of the shell has nothing to do with the taste or nutrition content of the egg itself. White eggs and brown eggs have the exact same nutrition profile. The breed of the chicken is the only thing that determines the color of the shell. How the chickens are fed can slightly affect the nutrition of the egg, such as feeding them flaxseed to increase the omega 3 content in the egg; but these “fortified” eggs can be pricey. Are they worth the extra cost? Probably not, given the little nutrition advantage they may have compared with getting your omega 3s from a better source, like fish. If you want to save money, just buy the least expensive eggs.
Mistake: You buy low-fat peanut butter to save calories and fat.
Truth: The fat in peanut butter is a heart healthy fat, so there’s no need to avoid it. The difference between reduced-fat peanut butter and regular peanut butter is in sugar content. Low-fat peanut butter has more sugar and ingredients, like pea protein, to make up for the reduced fat. There is seldom little, if any, calorie difference. Choose your peanut butter based on the fewest ingredients. Really, it should just be peanuts with maybe a little salt and/or sugar added.
Mistake: You always choose ground turkey, instead of hamburger.
Truth: Unless you are buying ground turkey breast, your ground turkey may have as much fat as lean ground beef. Compare 3 ounces of ground turkey with 3 grams of saturated fat to 3 ounces of ground sirloin with 2.5 grams of fat. Plus, the beef is a good source of iron, B12 and zinc, whereas the turkey is not. You can save saturated fat if you make sure you are buying ground turkey breast — 3 ounces has just .5 grams saturated fat.
Mistake: You buy turkey bacon, instead of “real” bacon.
Truth: Turkey bacon is all over the place in terms of nutrition. Some are truly low fat, and some actually have more fat, calories and sodium than pork bacon. One slice of center cut pork bacon has 60 calories, 1.5 grams of fat and 260 mg sodium. One slice of regular turkey bacon has 70 calories, 2 grams of fat and 360 mg sodium. Some turkey bacon has a long list of ingredients, including things like sugar, soy protein, corn gluten and silicon dioxide. What should you do? Choose center cut pork bacon or look for extra lean turkey bacon that has around 40 calories per slice, <1 g saturated fat, and the lowest sodium you can find. Bacon shouldn’t be a staple in your diet, so sometimes the real thing might be OK.
Mistake: You believe the health claims on packages.
Truth: Gluten-free, sugar-free, fat-free … many foods now boast some nutritional health claim. Although the claim may be true, it may not be beneficial to your diet. You may believe you can eat more of these foods because they are better for you. It’s called the “health halo effect.” Studies show people believe that foods marketed as healthy have fewer calories and they tend to eat larger portions. If you read the labels carefully, you’ll see that many of these foods have as many or even more calories than their original counterparts and often are not significantly lower in fat, sugar or sodium.
Mistake: You use flaxseeds to get your omega 3s.
Truth: Although flaxseeds are nutritious and contain plant omega 3s, it isn’t the same as the kind of omega 3 you get from fish. If you are only using whole flaxseeds, you aren’t getting any benefit at all. Those tiny seeds are not digested and pass right on through. Use ground flaxseed or flaxseed oil for maximum benefit and plan on about 2 Tbsp a day. Eat fish a couple times a week to for the best source of omega 3s.
Mistake: You avoid refined sugar, choosing raw sugar or honey instead.
Truth: You are paying more money for the same thing. Sugar, honey, raw sugar, agave nectar, syrups, etc., are all digested and used the same by our bodies. Calories are similar in all of them, and the nutrients essentially are the same. Limit ALL added sugars, regardless of the source.
Mistake: You buy wheat bread thinking it is whole grain.
Truth: You have to read the fine print of the ingredient label to be sure you are getting whole grains. Look for “whole wheat,” not “wheat flour.” After all, isn’t white flour also wheat flour? Any of these are whole grains: brown rice, buckwheat, bulgur or cracked wheat, millet, quinoa, sorghum, triticale, wheat berries, pearled barley, whole-grain corn, oatmeal, whole grain rye, spelt, whole wheat and wild rice. The following are NOT whole grains: corn flour, cornmeal, enriched flour, multigrain, pumpernickel, rice, rice flour, rye flour, wheat, wheat flour, unbleached wheat flour and stone-ground wheat.
Mistake: You choose healthy snacks, but still can’t lose weight.
Truth: Maybe you are simply eating too much. Healthy food still has calories, and you need to reduce overall calories to lose weight. Granola is considered a healthy food, but did you know that 1 cup can have 600 calories? Popcorn is a good snack, but eating bag after bag isn’t going to help you lose weight. Smoothies usually have all healthy ingredients, but they may be high calorie. A salad may be a healthy choice, but it’s easy to pile on too many calories by adding cheese, nuts, seeds, croutons and dressing.
Don’t be fooled by advertisements or front-of-the package nutrition claims. Flip the package over and read the ingredient list and nutrition label. It’s the only way to know what you are really buying.
Anita Marlay, R.D., L.D., is a dietitian in the cardiac rehab department at Lake Regional Health System in Osage Beach, Mo.